March 12, 2012
This cover has been on my mind since it appeared in early February. It shows US and Afghan soldiers posing together at an outpost in Helmand Province in a wishful suggestion of alliance and comradeship.
If the lengthy cover article — based on an embed with Echo Company, Second Battalion, Fourth Marines — dares to hope the Afghan Army might maintain its effectiveness after America leaves, a companion blog interview with the author sounds more skeptical. One experiences the same contradiction looking at the photo itself. If the intention of these individuals is commendable, what of the larger strategy?
I have to say, I was already feeling manipulated by this photo upon its publication in early February. I felt more manipulated by it after the drone strike that killed those children in Eastern Afghanistan just a few days later. I felt still more manipulated when anti-American riots broke out in Kabul and other cities two weeks after that following the admission that the U.S. military had inadvertently incinerated copies of the Koran. And again I recalled the photo, and felt still more manipulated by it yesterday upon news that a berserk American soldier had massacred up to sixteen Afghani citizens and children in Panjwai.
If “The War Ends Here” means the campaign hinges on the capacity of Americans and Afghanis to forge a true partnership, that makes sense. Unfortunately, the portrait seems to speak to the exception.
(photo: Joël van Houdt for The New York Times. Who’s Who on the Cover.)